As Black History Month came to a close, discussion erupted over a controversial flier posted by the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. The flier boasted “A Celebration of Black Artistry” while highlighting performances by five white musicians. Now, far into March, a proper finale of Black History Month will take place with Black Renaissance: A Celebration of Black Artistry premiering this Sunday, March 21 from 4:30-7:30 p.m. in Wilder Bowl. Students are welcome to enjoy musical performances, poetry readings, visual art, and more.
The event is hosted by the Conservatory Council of Students, Oberlin College Black Musicians’ Guild, and a coalition of Student Senate members, including Vice Chair and College fourth-year Jasmine Mitchell.
“If [the Conservatory] can’t do an event right, then as always, students thought let’s just do it ourselves,” Mitchell said.
Black Renaissance: A Celebration of Black Artistry was built from the ground up for and by Oberlin students.
“It’s definitely kind of exploded beyond what we thought from the beginning, but really just the focus is on creating opportunities that really center and celebrate Black musicianship and artistry,” Mitchell said. “Our focus was to make sure that it was centering the people that were harmed, which was Black students.”
True to that pursuit, Black artists across interests and genres — including vocalists, OSLAM poets, Conservatory musicians, and bands such as The Blackberry Poets — will perform. Food will be provided by The Arb and Steel Magnolia, in order to center Black businesses as well as artistry.
“It’s going to be such a social event, which has been so complicated the past year, but we’re doing it in a very methodical, thinking ahead, safe way,” Vice President of the Conservatory Council of Students and College fourth-year Olivia Fink said.
After a year of dialing back public performances due to COVID-19, this outdoor celebration will be a welcome opportunity to enjoy the work of artists at Oberlin. As secretary of both the Conservatory Council of Students and the Oberlin College Black Musicians’ Guild, Conservatory second-year Katelyn Poetker knows that Black Renaissance will be special for Conservatory students in particular.
“We had a lot of events that were really amazing over Black History Month,” Poetker said. “But one thing that was missing was a performance opportunity for students in the Conservatory. … We saw this as a great way to not only showcase our students but to let them be able to perform.”
In addition to student art exhibitions and live performances, Associate Professor of Africana Studies and Comparative American Studies Meredith Gadsby will be speaking. Gadsby is Co-Chair of President Carmen Twillie Ambar’s Presidential Initiative to address racial justice and worked hard for students to have space to create the Black History Month that they wanted.
“Student organizations did an amazing job with Black History Month and didn’t get nearly enough attention as that one incident [did],” Mitchell said. “So that’s really what this tries to take back, because the focus of where all of this work is headed toward kind of got lost on the way.”
The event will be livestreamed for off-campus students and for Oberlin community members who rallied in response to the controversial flier.
“It’s very easy for people to see something like [the Conservatory post] and get really angry … but it is even more meaningful to stand in solidarity with Black students who are trying to perform their artistry,” Fink said.
Black Renaissance: A Celebration of Black Artistry will be a place for students to engage in exactly that type of support, and demonstrate what a true celebration of Black artistry looks like.